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Asking the Clergy: Why is religious freedom vital to our way of life?

From left, the Rev. Kevin O'Hara of Lutheran

From left, the Rev. Kevin O'Hara of Lutheran Church of Our Savior, Mahesh Shastri Ji of the Hindu Temple of Long Island, and Abdul Aziz Bhuiyan of Hillside Islamic Center. Credit: Kevin O'Hara; Hindu Temple of Long Island, Bethpage; Jeff Bachner

Bill of Rights Day, observed nationally on Dec. 15, celebrates the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution, including the First Amendment guarantee of the freedom to worship as one chooses. This week’s clergy discuss the how religious freedom is a foundation of peace, prosperity and positive change in a diverse nation.

The Rev. Kevin O’Hara

Pastor, Lutheran Church of Our Savior, Patchogue

It might be bold to say that without religious backing, no social movement has ever succeeded in its cause. When you look at the stances religious groups have taken — from support of racial equality to the movements for and against abortion rights, to women’s empowerment to LGBTQIA+ inclusion, among others — each movement builds and changes with religious backing. This is the power of religious liberty.

When people visit the church where I work looking to join a new community, I know that not everyone will be eager to join. But because of religious freedom and tolerance, I can point those who experience God’s promises to other communities down the road that show God’s love through different means. Think about it: Religious liberty allows us to hold multiple voices, seeing the world through a plethora of possibilities, allowing us to be open to hearing God’s law and grace through our cooperation together.

Does this mean everything is subjective? Not necessarily; sometimes the basis of faith comes down to the love God has for us, or for the fact that there is one God alone as the source of all life. Everything else is our searching for and defining God’s truth.

Aziz Bhuiyan

Board of trustees chairman, Hillside Islamic Center, New Hyde Park

Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms that "Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance."

A comprehensive understanding of religious liberty is essential for civil peace and prosperity in multicultural and pluralistic societies. The country that can secure religious freedom for all citizens is more stable and successful because it is able to bring together a range of competing faith groups that may have little in common theologically. There is, in fact, a great range of teachings within Islam and its traditions about religious liberty as it pertains to society and individuals. Indeed, the Quran and the Prophet Muhammad speak extensively on the topic.

The central message of the Quran and the example of the Prophet Muhammad support a robust conception of religious liberty. Accordingly, Muslims are in favor of religious liberty for all citizens of our great nation. We, the Muslims, stand against any laws that will disenfranchise any citizens based on race, religion and country of origin.

Mahesh Shastri Ji

Priest, Hindu Temple of Long Island, Bethpage

As the world has changed because of the coronavirus and other unexpected challenges, we, the religious leaders, have a responsibility to create positivity so that people can continue with their daily responsibilities. Religious liberty brings new hope and boosts new energy, which encourages everyone to perform their duties and responsibilities in a much better way.

The United States is unique in the way it protects religious freedom. Many other nations, such as France and Spain, allow everyone to practice their religion freely. On the other hand, some countries don’t allow religious diversity on their land. And some people have exploited the freedoms of religious liberty to commit acts of terrorism.

In nations with religious diversity, such as the United States, being educated about other religions is essential for mutual understanding. For example, many people are not familiar with the traditional dress of Sikhs.

Every religious person in the United States should respect the Constitution and then enjoy its religious liberty — placing country first and then religion. Thanks to religious freedoms, we can live a good life with love, wisdom, harmony and humanity.

DO YOU HAVE QUESTIONS you’d like Newsday to ask the clergy? Email them to LILife@newsday.com.

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